Luther

This tag is associated with 6 posts

Indulgences are Worse than Useless: Reformation 500

Martin Luther2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is hailed by many as the start of the Reformation: Luther’s sharing his 95 Theses. I’ve decided to celebrate my Lutheran Protestant Tradition by highlighting some of the major issues that Luther and the Lutherans raised through the Reformation period. I hope you will join me as we remember the great theological (re)discoveries that were made during this period.

Indulgences are Worse than Useless

Luther’s critique of indulgences was a typical (for him) combination of insight and invective. He sought to clearly condemn not just the sale of but also the use of indulgences, which means parts of his critique remain quite relevant today. Here we will draw primarily from Luther’s explanations of his 95 theses.

Luther argued that the pope actually has no power over purgatory and, moreover, that if the pope did have this power, he ought to exercise it:

If the pope does have the power to release anyone from purgatory, why in the name of love does he not abolish purgatory by letting everyone out? (81-82, cited below)

The question cuts straight to he heart of the system in which the pope is exalted as having power over souls in purgatory. It is clear that Luther did not at this point denounce the doctrine of purgatory. What his point is directed at instead, is the claim that the pope does have such power. After all, if the pope does have such power, then why would he not simply release all the souls from purgatory immediately, thus granting a most generous and wonderful reprieve? The fact that the pope of Luther’s time did not do so and was in fact selling indulgences for coin spoke volumes about the doctrine itself and the need for reformation.

But the point still has relevance today, as one might ask the question: if the pope today currently has the power over purgatory, why does he not simply release all those who are suffering there? One possible answer might be because it is just that people undergo such suffering or bettering of themselves in purgatory that they might truly be, er, reformed. But then the question of the two kingdoms comes to mind. After all, such a response effectively strips the pope of the power that has allegedly been granted him, for if the spiritual benefits of purgatory are so great, why does he ever exercise the power he is said to hold? The argument can proceed indefinitely in a circle, which seems to show that the initial point is valid.

Luther, however, did not stop there. Rather than questioning the power of the pope to grant indulgences, he also noted the great spiritual harm such indulgences do:

Indulgences are positively harmful to the recipient because they impede salvation by diverting charity and inducing a false sense of security… Indulgences are most pernicious because they induce complacency and thereby imperil salvation. Those persons are damned who think that letters of indulgence make them certain of salvation. (82)

Indulgences, by granting pardon from sin or the consequences thereof, produce a false sense of security of salvation that may lead rather to damnation. For once one believes that because someone else has told them future or past sins are paid for by some collection of merit of others, they may believe that they are forgiven, when they have not confessed and repented of that sin to God. Thus, a false sense of security is gained, but in reality the person may be condemned, not having received full and free forgiveness of their sins.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology– I note the influence that the Reformation period continues to have on many aspects of our lives.

Source

Quotes from Luther are from Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Abingdon, 1950). It appears as though Bainton was either translating directly from a German edition or paraphrasing Luther.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Practical Lutheranism: Luther on the 5th Commandment and Refugees

I have been reading through the Book of Concord, which is a collection of the Lutheran Confessions. I think it is vitally important for one who, like me, claiming to be Lutheran to be familiar with these documents. They are, after all, what we believe and confess. I decided to start a series of posts as I’m reading through the Book of Concord to highlight various areas I think are important.

The Fifth Commandment and Refugees

There is much fear in the world today over the question of Syrian Refugees. I’ve been reading through the Book of Concord and I ran into the section on the Fifth Commandment. I was taken back by how lucid Luther’s interpretation is there, and it has some serious application for today:

Therefore it is God’s ultimate purpose that we suffer harm to befall no [hu]man, but show [them] all good and love; and, as we have said, it is specially directed toward those who are our enemies. For to do good to our friends is but an ordinary heathen virtue, as Christ says Matt. 5:46.

One can see these same thoughts echoed in the discussion of the seventh commandment:

…we are commanded to promote and further our neighbors’ interests, and when they suffer any want, we are to help, share, and lend to both friends and foes (251-252)

What is particularly uncomfortable about these words is the word of law that is contained within them: “both friends and foes” are included in these commands. We ought to further their interests, “help, share, and lend to” them “when they suffer any want,” and show them “all good and love.” Luther is abundantly clear on this point: “it is specially directed toward those who are our enemies.”

Could more prophetic words have been written by Luther? Surely, the times in which we fear our enemies and wish to do nothing but avoid them are legion. Today is but one example of human injustice to fellow humans. But the words of the Commandments brook no argument, and Luther’s interpretation makes this abundantly clear: “to do good to our friends is but an ordinary heathen virtue…” and we are given a higher calling.

Those objections that would point to individual instances of violence, those who would alleged terrorists sneaking into our borders, and the like: the word of the law is spoken, and it is a powerful one: Christ’s calling is higher. When they suffer–even when our enemies suffer–we ought help them. If that means letting in the Syrian refugee fleeing from the violence in their homeland, if that means the “illegal immigrant” running from poverty and destitution, then so be it. There is no question here. There is no exception for fear that they will “steal our jobs” or that they speak a different language or have a different skin color or a different religion or anything of the sort. The words Luther writes here are clear: “it is God’s ultimate purpose that we suffer harm to befall no” one.

Source

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Adhering to the Book of Concord “In So Far As” or “Because” it Agrees with Scripture?– I argue that Lutherans must hold the position that we adhere to the Book of Concord In So Far As it Agrees with Scripture.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Law Always Condemns, The Gospel Always Saves. Or, why I’m a Lutheran.

Gebhard_Fugel_Moses_erhält_die_TafelnComparing Holy Scripture with other writings, we observe that no book is apparently so full of contradictions as the Bible, and that, not only in minor points, but in the principal matter, in the doctrine how we may come to God and be saved… This riddle is solved when we reflect that there are in Scriptures two entirely different doctrines, the doctrine of the Law and the doctrine of the Gospel. C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, 6 (cited fully below)

How are Christians to view the relationship between Law and Gospel? The issue has generated countless views and debates. One recent work which illustrates the breadth of views on this topic is Five Views on Law and Gospel, which outlines the major views on the issue.

C.F.W. Walther’s work, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, is what I would consider the definitive work on Law and Gospel. Here, I will outline what I believe is the correct understanding of Law and Gospel, while drawing heavily from Walther’s work.

Law and Gospel

The most central point of all–that is, the point that I hope readers remember if nothing else–is this: The Law always condemns, the Gospel always saves. This point is emphasized throughout Lutheran theology. What does it mean? Simply put: it means that these two doctrines, found throughout Scripture, have entirely distinct meanings and usages. One cannot intermingle law and gospel while remaining true to either doctrine. Wherever the Gospel is presented as if it had requirements attached to it, there the Gospel is not rightly preached. Whenever the Law is preached as if it offered some kind of free gift, it is not rightly preached. 

Law only has power to condemn. It cannot save. That is because none can keep God’s Law. All sin, and all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Law shows what God requires of us. It “issues only commands and demands” (Walther, Proper Distinction…, 9).

In contrast, the Gospel only gives offers without requirements attached (ibid). The Gospel shows us God’s promises and offer of grace.

At first face, one examines the whole of the Bible and finds these teachings throughout. The teachings seem so at odds with one another that one might suspect a contradiction throughout the Biblical teaching. However, the fact is that both doctrines are “equally necessary. Without the Law the Gospel is not understood; without the Gospel the Law benefits us nothing” (Ibid, 8). The reason this is so important is because Law and Gospel are not opposites working against each other. Instead, both “have their final aim [human] salvation” (Ibid, 7). They work together to present a full picture of how salvation comes unto men.

The Law, as we have noted, cannot bring salvation because none but God can fulfill it. That is, it gives the requirements for salvation but no one can meet these requirements! We would all be lost if this were the whole of Biblical teaching. Yet there is more to the story, for the Gospel offers only its promises. God has promised to save. He is mighty to save. God has accomplished our salvation. And this salvation does not come with requirements attached. Such is our hope.

Most simply put then, the purpose of the Law is to show our need for the Gospel because we cannot meet the requirements of the Law. The purpose of the Gospel is to show that God has already met these requirements for us in Jesus Christ and to offer us that fulfillment through Christ’s atoning work. So the Gospel, without the Law, would be empty promises. What need have we for Gospel if we are not sinners? Yet without the Gospel, the Law is only a terror which tells us that all are condemned.

sketch-for-the-crucifixion-thomas-eakinsSome Distortions

A number of objections have been raised against this understanding of Law and Gospel. For example: “[The notion t]hat the law must be viewed as a single entity is one of the most common of all objections made against the Christian use of the Law” (Walter Kaiser, Jr., “The Law as God’s Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness,” 188, cited below). Kaiser then argues against viewing the Law as a single entity. He makes distinctions between Civil, Ceremonial, and Moral laws. I agree that we can make these distinctions, but they do not somehow mean it is impossible to refer to the “Law” as a whole entity with all of the commands God has issued.

Another common objection is that of dispensational thought. It is often charged that because we live in a new dispensation, the teachings of the Mosaic Law, for example, no longer apply to us. Without commenting on the plausibility of dispensationalism, I would simply answer that it seems extremely hard to reconcile the notion that the Mosaic Law has no applicability in our own context with Jesus’ words about the Law: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). Note that this verse also shows Christ using the “Law” as a single, coherent entity.

Yet does this mean that everything recorded in the Mosaic Law has applicability exactly as written? No. A further discussion along this line of thought would take me too far afield, but I think that the Bible does clearly teach there is some discontinuity between the application of Mosaic Law to the Jew and the New Covenant with Christians (for example, the dietary laws do not apply to Christians). This hints back at the divisions Kaiser was keen to make within the Law, and I think the application to the Christian life can be viewed within the categories he discusses.

Conclusion

There is so much more worth saying about Law and Gospel, but in the interest of keeping this post at a readable length, I have had to set some aside. Interested readers should see the annotated sources below.

We have seen that the Law and Gospel must be properly divided in order to properly understand the whole of the Bible’s teaching. Why do I say that this is why I’m a Lutheran? I hope, at least, that other branches of Christianity teach these distinctions between Law and Gospel. But I have to admit that I have not seen it so consistently done as it is within the Lutheran perspective. Martin Luther was right to focus directly upon this teaching, and I believe it is central to the Reformation[s]. It touches upon soteriology, sanctification, the atonement, and more. Thus, I think it is vitally important to get this doctrine correct. In my studies, I have found no teaching so close to the Biblical truth as the Lutheran teaching on Law and Gospel. I’m not saying that everyone should go and become Lutherans. Instead, I think that everyone should benefit from learning the proper distinction between Law and Gospel and apply it to their lives.

The Law always condemns, the Gospel always saves.

Appendix: The Modified Lutheran View?

I think it is important to note that the view put forth as “The Modified Lutheran View” in Five Views on Law and Gospel is not, so far as I can tell, the Lutheran view at all. I want to make this clear because we need to avoid this misunderstanding. Douglas Moo’s view essentially seems to be  temporally-based. He writes, “Basic… to biblical revelation is the contrast between ‘before’ and ‘after’ Christ, a contrast between two ‘ages’ or ‘eras’… the New Testament writers… relegate [the Mosaic Law] basically to the period of time before the coming of Christ” (322).

Those who have stuck with me this long should be able to immediately see how this is utterly different from the Lutheran view I proposed above. The distinction between law and gospel is not a temporal distinction whatsoever. The Law is still with us. Walther himself makes this explicit: “[W]e find both teachings in the Old as well as in the New Testament” (Proper Distinction… 62). There is no temporal dividing line between Old and New such that some new reality has dawned on Law and Gospel. Instead, the Law continues to condemn, while the Gospel continues to save.

Yet Moo goes so far as to say this is a point which needs to be “corrected” within the Lutheran view (ibid). He seems to think that Lutherans would deny that Jesus was able to speak law, while also mistakenly painting the Sermon on the Mount as being a preaching entirely of the Law. Indeed, Moo’s view seems to affirm many of the basic tenants the Lutheran view explicitly denies, such as mixing the uses of Law and Gospel.

I thus would say that Moo’s position is not at all the Lutheran view. It is not a modified Lutheran view at all. Instead, it seems to violate a number of the primary distortions noted above. That said, Moo does admirably to defend the notion of the Law as a coherent, cohesive whole. There is much to commend Moo’s essay, but it ultimately fails, I think, to provide a properly Lutheran view of Law and Gospel.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

Annotated Sources

C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1986). This is Walther’s magisterial work on Law and Gospel. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I personally think this book should be required reading for every single seminarian. He goes through and lists numerous distinctions to be made in learning, teaching, and applying Law and Gospel. Every Christian should read this book and apply it to their lives.

For a more succinct summary of what Walther argues in the above, see God’s No and God’s Yes: The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. This latter work is essentially the same in content as Walther’s text, but 1/4 the length. It is out of print, it seems, which is very unfortunate. I do recommend it highly. But if you cannot get

Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley Gundry (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan 1999) – I specifically used the following essays: Walter Kaiser, Jr., “The Law as God’s Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley Gundry, 177-199, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999); Douglas Moo, “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley Gundry, 319-376, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999). I found this book to be very helpful in outlining various views, but was disappointed with the “modified Lutheran view” (see my appendix here).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Cross Roads” by Wm. Paul Young- An Evangelical’s Perspective

cross roadsOne of the biggest publishing phenomena of late, The Shack by Wm. Paul Young generated discussion among people all over the world, selling over 18 million copies. I have discussed that book elsewhere, and now I turn to Cross Roads, Young’s recently released novel. Please note that this will not be a review and I will not provide a summary of the plot. Instead, I am exploring the theological and philosophical themes that Young raises throughout Cross Roads. There will be Spoilers ahead.

Free Will

The notion of crossroads is a major theme throughout the work, and Young utilizes the imagery to discuss free will metaphorically. Anthony Spencer (Tony), the main character, finds himself inside his mind, which is portrayed as a kind of land with various roads and places inside it. Initially, he begins exploring this land and finds himself coming to numerous forks in the road. He continues to find these forks and realizes that as he continues to make choices, “it occurred to Tony that the number of direction decisions was diminishing; options were significantly decreasing” (35). Young doesn’t expand on this much, but it seems like a vivid illustration of libertarian free will, wherein one’s choices in the past do indeed influence their choices in the future. As Tony makes choices on his path, he finds that the choices available to him decrease. The reason, it seems, is because his choices have started to form his world. It seems to me that this is a great way to show libertarian free will in literature.

Church

A robust theology of church and salvation is something that I think is necessary for an adequate theology. I find one reason for this illustrated well by Young:

Church, thought Tony. He hadn’t set foot inside one of those since his last foster family had been religious. He and Jake [Tony’s brother] had been required to sit silently for what seemed like hours… He smiled to himself, remembering how he and Jake had schemed together and ‘gone forward’ one night at church, thinking it would win them points with the family, which it did. The attention their conversions garnered was initially rewarding, but it soon became clear that ‘asking Jesus into your heart’ dramatically increased expectations for strict obedience to a host of rules they hadn’t anticipated. He soon became a ‘backslider,’ in a category, he discovered, that was profoundly worse than being pagan in the first place. (124)

It seems clear to me that here the act of conversion has itself become a work, rather than a gift of grace. Tony’s concept of conversion at this point in the book is that of “asking Jesus into your heart.” Unsurprisingly, when he fails to perform other adequate works–obeying a set of rules. The problem with this theology should become clear immediately. By suggesting that Christianity is about “going forward” and publicly affirming a faith, this form of theology puts the believer in the position of affirming faith, rather than receiving it as a gift. When faith becomes a public work, it becomes the Law instead of the Gospel. When demands for works are made on faith, then faith itself becomes a work. Unfortunately, this kind of works-righteousness sneaks into theology at all levels, ever seeking a place to grow.

The problems with this theology are portrayed vividly in this illustration. The notion that people need to make a public declaration of faith leads to its abuse, as Tony and Jake attempted to do, but it also leads to difficulties for those who believe their declaration was itself true (unlike Tony and Jake, who simply did it to glorify themselves in the eyes of their foster parents). When someone makes their “decision for Christ,”  their faith life becomes wrapped up in that decision. Their walk with God is contingent upon their continuing to make this decision. Unfortunately, this type of theology makes faith all about one’s own decisions, rather than Christ’s justification and the free gift of faith.

Women

There are many church bodies who do not ordain women to the office of the ministry. That is, they hold beliefs that say women should not be spiritual leaders of men in the church. Young explores this issue when Pastor Skor shows up and challenges Maggie, one of the main characters, regarding her outburst during a church service.  Pastor Skor takes Maggie’s outburst and disruptive behavior as a clue to him from God that he has been too lax in his instructing his congregation in the Bible. He makes an argument that women should not be leaders in church and should remain silent:

And we affirm the Word, which declares there is no longer male or female [Galatians 3:28], but… the Word is speaking of how God sees us, not about how we function in the church, and we must always remember that God is a God of order. It is vital that each person play their part, and as long as they stay within the roles that God has mandated, the church functions as it was meant to… (167)

The pastor goes on to quote 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to support his position. Yet Young, through Clarence, an elder who is with the pastor to talk with Maggie, provides a counter-argument to this reasoning:

It is sarcasm… I believe that the apostle Paul was being sarcastic when he wrote what you read… He is quoting a letter that these folk sent him with questions, and he is in total disagreement with what they have written to him. (168-169)

Clarence defends this position by alluding to 1 Corinthians 14:36, apparently using the KJV: “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” Given the way this verse is worded, Clarence holds that verses 34-35 are a quote from a letter the Corinthians sent to Paul which Paul then responds to sarcastically by wondering whether the Corinthians think that God’s word came only to them.

Young’s offered interpretation seems possible, but perhaps not made explicit enough. It seems to me possible that Paul would have made it more clear that he was quoting another’s writing here. The KJV seems to support the interpretation given to 1 Cor 14:36 here, but other translations phrase it differently, in such a way that the verse seems to be more of a challenge to readers to dismiss what Paul is declaring in 34-35.

Of course, one could still argue that Young’s interpretation has great strength, noting that nowhere in the Bible do we see this command in the Scripture “as the law also says” and so we may infer that Paul is referencing an extra-biblical teaching and rebutting it. In fact, this seems to line up with Young’s argument perfectly because we can see that Paul would be citing a Judaizer’s teaching in the church in Corinth–who would hold that the silence of women is taught by the Law [Jewish extra-biblical law]–and then refuting this by noting that the word of God did not come from them alone (see Katharine Bushnell’s God’s Word to Women for an extended look at this argument). It seems to me that this does have some significant strength, thus empowering Young’s argument.

Therefore, it seems to me that Young offers a fairly decent egalitarian interpretation of the passage, though he could have given other arguments which would take into account the passage’s cultural context, in which women were speaking out of turn in worship. The core of the statement seems to me to be that the women in this specific context needed to learn from their husbands at home and remain silent in church so that they did not cause disruption.

The way the scenario plays out in the book is also difficult to evaluate because Maggie definitely was disrupting the church service and would have appeared at least slightly crazy to those around her. She was screaming about a demon speaking to her and was, in fact, mistaken about that. I think she can be forgiven for her extreme reaction given the strange situation in which she found herself, but the Corinthians passage is in context all about order in worship in general, and certainly people bursting in screaming about demons would be disorderly worship.

Thus, it seems to me that Young offers a possible interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, but he has made his case problematic by the narrative context in which he placed it. It is worth noting that this work will get people talking about the issue. Young has given a somewhat strong version of a lengthy egalitarian argument in the form of narrative.

Practical Ethics and Disability

Cabby, a boy with Down’s Syndrome, is featured prominently throughout the book. Young uses him as a foil to show that those with disabilities have much to contribute to modern society. Perhaps the most poignant way he does this is through the negative portrayal of Tony’s view of Cabby:

Tony had never known a ‘retarded’ person. He wasn’t sure if that is what you called them… His opinions on most nonbusiness matters may not have been founded on evidence or experience, but he was sure of them. People like Cabby were an  unproductive drain on the resources of society; they were valuable only to their families. He believed they were tolerated because of liberal persuasions, not because such people had any intrinsic worth… It is easy to create a category of persons, like retarded or handicapped, and then pass judgment on the group as a whole. He wondered if that was not the heart of all prejudice. (108-109)

In contrast to Tony’s view, Cabby turns out to be insightful and delightful. He is shown to have positive value in a number of ways that go beyond his immediate family. He ultimately shows the practical usefulness of inherent human worth.

God 

For Young, understanding God as relationship is central to the concept of deity. The concept of deity that is presented is that of Trinity. Much ink will be spilled, I feel certain, on whether or not Young portrays the persons of the Trinity correctly, just as there was in The Shack (see my own discussion here).

Young’s position seems to be largely unchanged from that in The Shack, and so much of the commentary will follow the same line. I think he does a very good job of exploring the inter-relational character of God and the temporal submission of Christ in the incarnation to God the Father. Some may see the primary difficulty with Young’s portrayal of God is that the Father makes very little appearance in the book, but near the end readers find out that is not the case. In fact, the Father is intricately involved in all aspects of God and the life portrayed in the novel.

Those who conceptualize God as inherently male will have a problem with the book, however. Unfortunately, some paganism has indeed hung on in the church, wherein some view God as a gendered being. In the Bible, however, we find that God is spirit and not a man. Thus, I think that Young’s use of gender with God may shock some but also underscores the fact that God is not a gendered being, and instead transcendent.

Historical Theology

Young offers a short discussion of historical theology and God that seems to me to at least partially miss the mark. It is very brief, but I think it is worth discussing. Young puts the following commentary in the mouth of Jesus himself:

The Greeks, with their love for isolation [of deity] influence Augustine and later Aquinas… and a nonrelational religious Christianity is born. Along come the Reformers, like Luther and Calvin, who do their best to send the Greeks back outside the Holy of Holies, but they are barely in the grave before the Greeks are resuscitated and invited back to teach in their schools of religion. The tenacity of bad ideas is rather remarkable, don’t you think? (73)

There are a number of problems with this small passage. First, Augustine heavily influenced both Calvin and Luther. In fact, Calvin’s theology is tied very intricately to Augustine’s view of free will and original sin. Similarly, Luther’s view of original sin derives directly from Augustine’s exposition in City of God. Second, it seems unfair to view Aquinas as a kind of anti-relationalist when it comes to God’s nature. Aquinas very much emphasized the triunity of God, which was (and is!) an extremely important topic. To thus accuse Aquinas of undermining God’s relational-ness seems unfair. Finally, the notion that the influence of Greek philosophy on Christianity is somehow inherently bad seems a bit shortsighted. There are innumerable positive contributions that reflection on Greek thought has brought into the fold of Christianity. Among these are the very concept of free will that Young pushes in his book, along with a number of aspects of Trinitarian and Incarnational theology that Young seems to support. This may seem to be a nitpick, but it seems to me that if Young is going to use his book to make comments about historical theology, it is vastly important to get that historical development right.

Conclusion

Cross Roads is another thought-provoking work by Young. Those who read it will be forced to think about all the topics on which it touches, regardless of whether they agree with Young’s conclusions or not. As with The Shackthis book will almost certainly be widely read. Those who are interested in Christian theology and apologetics should consider the book a must-read simply for its cultural relevance. Ultimately, Young has authored another fictional work that will inspire conversations about theology on a wide scale.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Who Interprets Scripture? Sola Scriptura, the Reformation, and the modern era: Reformation Review

Theological debates raged throughout the period of the Reformation. These debates were about who had the right to interpret Scripture, what was the nature of salvation, who had authority in the church, and the like. Sound familiar? It should. Many of the debates that were central to the reformers are still in our purview today. Central to several of these debates focused upon the interpretation of Scripture.

Sola Scriptura: Two difficulties

The Reformers operated under the ideal of sola scriptura. The term literally means “scripture alone.” The notion seems simple enough: when it comes to doctrine, practice, and belief, the church universal is to be guided by Scripture alone. Yet it quickly became apparent during the Reformation era that things were not quite so simple.

First, sola scriptura was largely founded upon the notion that any Christian could read and understand Scripture. Yet, as became clear due to the fierce debates of the meaning of the Sacraments (i.e. the debate between Luther and Zwingli on the “real presence” in the Lord’s Supper), it seemed that on some things, Scripture wasn’t so simple (McGrath a, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 106-107, cited below). People could disagree, vehemently, even over things that each side thought was abundantly clear.

Second, Anabaptists and others argued that sola scriptura meant that every single individual Christian could read and understand the Bible for themselves. How was this problematic? Well, if every Christian could understand every part of the Bible, then there was no way to arbitrate between differing interpretations of soteriology (doctrine of salvation), eschatology (doctrine of the end times), and the like. Of course, not all of these interpretations could be correct, and if those who had argued for the individualism of Scriptural interpretation were correct, then they could all be right, in some sense. Furthermore, the issue was exacerbated in that because no one had the authority to proclaim what doctrines were correct, the church began to increasingly split  to the point that “the radical Reformation was not a unified movement, but rather a chorus of protest against the clergy, secular authorities, and Reformers such as Luther and Zwingli. It was a reservoir for uncompromising protest that could well up in the most varied social circles… ‘Within the turmoiled flood of radical reform or restitution the fresh vitalities of the Reformation… were borne along swiftly to radical extremes'” (Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations, 213, cited below).

Limiting Perspicuity

The solution to the first problem was simply to concede that, on at least some issues, Scripture was not crystal clear. On at least certain points, the magisterial reformers “had conceded that Scripture is obscure” (McGrath a, 108). There was genuine disagreement over some issues. However, not all agreed with this conclusion, and some still pressed that all of Scripture was indeed clear. Such an argument tied into the second problem the Reformers had to confront in relation to sola scriptura: who has the right interpretation?


Which Interpretation? Tradition’s Importance

Tradition played an important role in determining how the interpretation of Scripture was to be undertaken. During the Medieval period, a number of developments in hermeneutics laid the groundwork for the various interpretive methods utilized in the Reformation (McGrath b, 148ff). There were three primary views which emerged during the Reformation.

First, there was the position that “there is no place for tradition in the interpretation of the Bible. Every individual or community is free to interpret the Bible without reference to the Christian past” (McGrath a, 100). Such a position was part of the Radical Reformation and led to innumerable differing interpretations of Scripture. Of course, this was the group of reformers which applied sola scriptura most consistently. They took the principle literally and only allowed the Bible to be authoritative. However, with no way to arbitrate between differing doctrines, it seemed that such a position was incapable of standing up to scrutiny. All it could allow for was rampant individualism.

Second, there was the position that tradition was “an additional mode of divine revelation, in which information that was not committed to writing in the Bible was passed down…” (McGrath a, 100). The Roman Catholic church endorsed this position. However, it did not become popular with the reformers at all.

Instead, the Reformers developed a third position, one which stood as a middle way between the extremes of enshrining tradition and rejecting it outright. On this position, “Tradition designates a traditional way of interpreting a biblical text, which does not displace the text” (McGrath a, 100). Tradition therefore does not become an independent source of authority, but rather a way of interpreting the authority–Scripture–in an authoritative manner. By using tradition in this manner, the Reformers avoided the individualism of rejecting tradition, while also avoiding the error of raising tradition to the same level of importance as Scripture.

The third way was developed largely in the Reformed and Lutheran traditions, but it had its core in the historic Christian Creeds. Within the Lutheran tradition, the Apostles’; Nicene; and Athanasian Creeds were taken as theological foundations, and the Augsburg Confession and the later Book of Concord (which drew together several other confessions of the Lutheran faith) became the interpretive lens through which the Lutheran church would view Scripture and right doctrine.

Modern Theology, Reformation Problems

The discussions which occurred in the Reformation on the nature of sola scriptura, tradition, and the interpretation of Scripture had their origins in the past, and they continue into today. Some continue to insist that anyone can read the Bible and understand it in its entirety.

Against those who argue against their position, they insist that they themselves are just reading what the Bible says. This can be seen in a number of debates in Christian theology. It seems the best response to those who wield the ‘perspicuity of Scripture’ as a weapon against alternatives to their own doctrine have no alternative against those who disagree other than going back and forth claiming their own interpretation is correct and/or more clear.

The example I most often like to use is the book of Revelation and eschatology. Someone who claims the perspicuity of Scripture applies to the whole of Scriptural teaching must claim, in order to be consistent, that these doctrines are clear. Thus, such a person must maintain that every single verse in Revelation can simply be read by anyone and understood.

To be frank, I find this absurd. The extreme diversity of people’s interpretations of Revelation seem to undermine the notion that every passage in Scripture is clear. Furthermore–as has already been noted–those who hold to this radically individualistic position of Scripture have no way to decide between differing interpretations of Scripture. They are thus left with no way to determine any doctrine, whether it is radically opposed to Christianity or not, is heretical. Thus, one who holds this position cannot condemn modalism, as long as the person arguing for it is only using the Bible. After all, Scripture is clear! Everyone can read it. Therefore, it seems that this debate which continues to rage on from the Reformation must end. In order to avoid the mire of wanton individualism, we must have some principles for interpretation.

Another major issue of contemporary debate is that of Creeds and “paper popes.” Often, for example, the Lutheran Church is accused of utilizing the Book of Concord as a “paper pope”–a book which acts as an infallible interpreter of Scripture. Similarly, some argue that the historical Christian creeds are not Scripture and therefore must not be affirmed: again, sola scriptura.

It may be helpful to see this as a case study: in Lutheran circles, there is a debate over whether one must agree with the Book of Concord (the Lutheran Confessions) because it agrees with Scripture or insofar as it agrees with Scripture. Note the very important difference. If one says it is “because,” one is affirming that the Book of Concord is the correct intepretation of every relevant passage of Scripture. If one affirms that it is “insofar as,” one is admitting that there may be error in that interpretation. From a Lutheran perspective, this debate is hard to resolve. I tend to line up on the latter (insofar as) view.

However, it is clear that once one takes that position, one must lean more towards individualism. Again: how does one arbitrate doctrine if one does not adhere to any kind of authoritative statement on doctrine? It seems to me that one must at least hold that God has the power to transmit His teaching truthfully, and that’s why the historical Christian Creeds are vastly important. There must be a line drawn somewhere, but people may ever debate where to draw that line.

The key is perhaps found in Scripture itself, in which Christians are instructed not to continue arguments needlessly nor to focus upon topics which will create division (1 Corinthians 1:10ff; Ephesians 4:1ff). These teachings do not, however, preclude division nor do they allow for rampant individualism. It seems to me, therefore, that by adhering to the ecumenical council’s teaching–specifically, the creeds–as drawing out the right teachings of the church, we can avoid some of the great difficulties illustrated above. That’s why I would focus upon the Creeds which were drawn from those councils (like the Apostles’,  and Nicene Creeds) as the sources of authoritatively governing Christian interpretations on those topics.

Conclusion

Many theological questions that are in play today have their origins in various aspects of Reformation thought, which themselves have their origins in earlier Christian thought. The issue of the perspicuity of Scripture, it seems to me, must be limited to that of soteriology and perhaps a few other core issues. On who has the authority to interpret Scripture, it seems that the Reformers offered a way forward: by agreeing to submit to the authority of ecumenical Creeds not as sources of their own authority but rather as authoritative interpretations of the Bible, Christians can proceed in their reading of Scripture and interpretations thereof through those lenses. Thus, the danger of individualism and endless division can be avoided.

Link(s)

I survey the origins of the Reformation.

Sources

Alister E. McGrath a, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

Alister E. McGrath b, The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003).

Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010).

Thanks

Alister McGrath’s Reformation Thought: An Introduction was a gift from an anonymous donor. I was blown away when I saw it show up at my door and I have to say Thank you so much for being such a blessing! Whoever you are, you made my day. Well, more than just one day actually. This series of posts is a direct result of your donation. Thank you!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Reformation Review: A look at the origins of the European Reformations

The Reformation [I am going to use the term “Reformation” to refer to the European Reformations and the Roman Catholic counter-Reformation] is a period of extreme importance for those who seek to understand Christian theology. Many of the debates that are happening now can trace their roots to this period of history.

One of the most important aspects to understanding the Reformation–and, by extension, much of the development of theology after the Reformation–involves looking into the origins of the movements. How is it that the Reformation started? What brought about the notion that it was necessary to reform the Church?

In his Reformation Thought: An IntroductionAlister McGrath notes a number of aspects that are important for understanding Reformation thought. First, and perhaps most importantly, one must not limit reflection on the origins of the Reformation to any one cause. There were a diversity of social and theological causes which spurred the Reformation.

Social Factors in the Reformation

The organization of cities was one factor that led to the success of the reformation. McGrath notes that individual cities during this period had come to regard itself as a kind of individual state. However, due to the failures of many of these cities to provide for their citizens and their growth over time, there were calls for a broader and representative government (McGrath, 16, cited below).

Cities had become centers of power and experienced “remarkable growth” due to the various agrarian crises and plagues that had taken place in earlier years (Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations, 24ff, cited below).

Furthermore, the control of the city council over the general practices and laws of the cities often led to a “symbiotic relationship” between a reformer and the city council. “The reformer, by presenting a coherent vision of the Christian gospel and its implications for the religious, social, and political structures and practices of a city, was able to prevent a potentially revolutionary situation from degenerating into chaos” (McGrath, 19).

Some reformers were very tied to the social aspects of the reformation. For these reformers, “the Reformation involved the identification of ‘citizen’ with ‘Christian’… Thus Zwingli laid great emphasis upon the need to reform and redeem a community, whereas Luther tended to concentrate upon the need to reform and redeem the individual” (McGrath, 20).

Doctrinal and Moral Concerns and the Reformation

One of the primary concerns of the reformers was that the Church could “best be reformed and renewed by returning to the beliefs and practices of the early church” (McGrath, 20). The reformers observed many problems with the Church of their time and felt  that it was important to return to the “golden age” of Christianity, which they interpreted largely as the patristic period.

There had been a growth in popular religion which was largely disconnected from that of the Church. “Folk religion” focused upon the “needs of rural communities–such as haymaking and harvesting” (McGrath, 24). A lack of confidence in the pope and the clerical system contributed to the need for reform. Furthermore, the laity was becoming more educated, which led to a problem for the Church. Due to the Roman Catholic church’s system at the time in which positions of authority would be given often to the highest bidder, there were many in the Church who never visited their parishes or had little interest in or understanding of that which they were supposed to preach. The educated laity became increasingly aware of the many errors even parish preachers would make in their renditions of the Latin in the Mass (some of these priests had merely memorized the service without understanding it themselves!) (24ff).

Furthermore, throughout the Scholastic era, the Church had tolerated a kind of doctrinal pluralism. The Church recognized the need for allowing the academics to debate various issues, but this led to a serious question: “[W]hich of these schools of thought [theological schools of thought like Thomism or Scotists] was right?” (McGrath, 28). Yet the Church had suffered from a kind of schizophrenia about centralized authority. Was the authority in the Church found in Councils or in the Pope (Lindberg, 44ff)? Questions like these led to the need for reform. The reformers focused on who had the right to decide doctrine and the need for God’s word in the vernacular of the populace.

Two Primary Movers

There were two primary focuses for the individual reformers: the moral sphere and the doctrinal sphere. While it is necessary to avoid drawing a false either-or dichotomy between these, it is equally important to note that the various reformers focused largely one way or the other. Broadly speaking, several reformers in the Wittenburg/Swiss tradition focused upon the need to reform the very teachings and doctrines of the church, while those in the humanist (not to be confused with modern notions of humanism as atheism, but rather as a system of thought and practice) tradition focused upon the need to reform the moral practice of the church.

Again, neither of these should be seen as exclusive of the other. Moral reform often involved doctrinal reform and vice versa. What must be emphasized, however, is that the reformers differed at points on whether it was more important to have right belief or right practice. Surely both thought both were necessary, but the question was how to integrate these into the Church and furthermore which should come first as important. Such differing emphases can be observed, for example, in the doctrine of Scripture. The humanistic reformers tended to see the Bible as a guide for morals, while the Wittenberg and Swiss reformers tended to see it as a “record of God’s gracious promises of salvation to those who believed” (see discussion in McGrath, 55-57).

More to Come! 

Thus, the stage was set for reform of the church. Societal and doctrinal pressures were in place that would lead to the need for reflection on the spheres of belief and practice. The debates that raged through the reformation continue to rage today.

Throughout October and into the next few months (and perhaps beyond, depending on the feedback/readership I get here), I will be exploring various aspects of the Reformation. I will look at some important thinkers of the Reformation period and will also focus on some modern theology which can trace its roots back to the reformation. Why October [and beyond]? Well, Reformation Day is October 31st! Be ready to learn with me, and please ask questions and leave some comments!

Alister McGrath’s book was a gift from an anonymous donor. I was blown away when I saw it show up at my door and I have to say Thank you so much for being such a blessing! Whoever you are, you made my day. Well, more than just one day actually. This series of posts is a direct result of your donation. Thank you!

Links

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

Who Interprets Scripture? Sola Scriptura, the Reformation, and the modern era: Reformation Review– I investigate the notion of “sola scriptura” and its different applications in interpreting Scripture. I particularly emphasize the problem of doctrinal unity and the various ways church bodies have dealt with these difficulties from the Reformation into today.

Sources

Alister McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,639 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason